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Is Interleaving the Magic Bullet for Learning?
posted by: Melissa | October 30, 2018, 06:39 PM   

As teachers, we’re always looking for new strategies and techniques that can improve our students’ learning. One such technique is interleaving.

Interleaving is the method of learning or practicing different skills at the same time. In a traditional class, a teacher may have students practice subtracting single digit numbers one night and practice adding single digit numbers the next. This is generally referred to as blocking or massed practice. However, if that same teacher implemented the principles of interleaving, students would practice both adding and subtracting single digit numbers in the same night, and might even have some double digit numbers for extra measure!

According to education scientists, interleaving subjects helps transfer information into long term memory and can help students learn material more quickly. The University of Arizona has a great YouTube video that explains more about how the practice works.

What does the science reveal about this strategy? Early studies focused on whether interleaving could help students master physical skills, such as those needed in sports. These studies indicated interleaving practice helped students in sports such as badminton and basketball. Later, scientists looked at whether interleaving could also be useful in improving primarily cognitive skills, and a study of students learning about landscape artists proved that it could be effective. This study, and many others, focused on relatively low-level cognitive skills; however one study of law students showed further promise. After their use of interleaving techniques, they were better able to assess complex legal scenarios, indicating that this practice has benefits even for higher order thinking.

The research is clearly promising for educators and a variety of course work, indicating that interleaving has applications for our classrooms today. Fortunately, interleaving is not hard to implement. Teachers can introduce the practice by using homework assignments that blend a new skill with skills learned in previous lessons, such as the example of blending addition and subtraction above. Teachers can also ask students to compare two or more concepts, such as a social studies teacher who asks students to compare historical figures or a literature teacher who highlights similar themes from many different works.

What are your tips for mixing skills and topics?

Share below!

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